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Jan 10, 2019 |
sacred_in_opera  |

The Lighter Side: Gayla D. Morgan's "Mary – A Musical"

MARY – A MUSICAL is a lively “midrash” dealing with the deepest of universal human issues — acceptance of ourselves, the risks of vulnerability, the rewards of community — as presented through the prism of the life of Mary Magdalene and her relationship to Peter, Jesus, and Jesus’s other close disciples.

MARY is, therefore, not meant solely for Christian audiences, though Christians will surely love seeing the major events of Jesus’s life fleshed out as seamlessly as they are in this musical.

Gayla Morgan (book, lyrics, music) and Jean Mornard (book) have credibly characterized Mary Magdalene as a delightfully honest, bright, strong-willed, angry, opinionated, loving, vulnerable and brave woman, and they have done an equally effective job of portraying Peter, the antagonist in this musical, as a loud, expressive, honest and stubborn man. “They represent two sides of the same coin,” says Morgan. “Both lack filters.”

Jesus, whom the authors admit is a somewhat lesser character in this piece, is refreshingly angular — even rough-hewn — and is also vulnerable and open about his fears and doubts. At one pivotal point, for instance, he admits his attraction to Mary Magdalene, and though her attraction to him is also obvious, she redirects him to the heart of his divine nature and mission and signs on as his disciple and helper. By bringing out this physical aspect of Jesus and Magdalene’s relationship, the authors have acknowledged and honored human nature and love while maintaining focus on the enormity of Jesus’s assignment and mission. They offer their audience both a model of a strong, God-centered personal celibate relationship and a model for how we might live and work lovingly and effectively in Community.

Gayla D. Morgan, composer


Though the composer’s classical training as a violinist and singer are apparent in her writing, this musical also contains Jewish tonalities, folk, jazz and even a touch of Gregorian chant within an envelope of, as she calls it, “musical theater/pop”. Fresh and striking melodies arc over accompaniments that are sensitively transparent, allowing the voices to be showcased without competition.

As for drama: humor and depth follow quickly upon one-another. As for pace: there are no points where energy falters or the story loses intensity.

Most of us who were reared in the Christian tradition were taught that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Scholars have since acknowledged that nowhere in the four Gospels was Magdalene called a prostitute. Neither was she to be confused with the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet with her tears, nor the woman who was caught in adultery.

Co-author the Rev. Jean Mornard is an Episcopal priest, and Ms. Morgan has been active in Christian churches her entire life. It is to their credit that they mindfully and intentionally chose the early “popular” version of Mary Magdalene’s life rather than base their story on the issue of her having been possessed by seven demons. Why? you might ask. “A musical about demon possession would portray Magdalene as a victim, not as someone actively choosing to change. It provides a much less dramatic story line,” says Morgan.

MARY - THE MUSICAL fills two functions: it is a compelling musical theater piece for all audiences, and it suggests that Mary Magdalene might be the torchbearer for Christianity’s most important message — that of universal, nonjudging love and radical inclusion as the only route to true inner strength and peace.

Morgan is looking for opportunities to workshop MARY in 2019 and can be contacted at or through the website,"

About our Contributor

Susan Hulsman Bingham, recipient of the 2018 NOA Sacred in Opera Lifetime Achievement Award, is composer and founder of The Children's and Liturgical Opera Company, formerly known as Chancel Opera Company of Connecticut.  Her compositional output includes twenty-four sermon-length liturgical operas, some tiny Bible tale operas for children, and many anthems, psalm settings and motets. Bingham has also written the following longer operas, many of which include children: The Emperor and the Nightingale, Eli W, Tiny Operas, The Little Match Girl, Rabbi Nachman's Chair, Old Befana, The Musicians of Bremen, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Changeling, Char Face, The Legend of the Bluebonnet, Anniversary Tales, Fable Operas, Folktale Operas, The Wild Swans, Daniel's Gift, The Other Wise Man, and The Talking Stones of Machu Picchu (Inca tales with libretto by Michèle Miller Sigg), among others. Four of her chamber operas have been presented at New York's Lincoln Center under the auspices of MEET THE COMPOSER. The Snow Queen, a ballet based on the Andersen tale, premiered by New Haven Ballet and Orchestra New England. Four of her operas have also been broadcast over NBC television. Over the years, her work has been supported with grants from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, The New Haven Foundation, The New Haven Fund for Arts in Education, the Margaret Jory Music Copying Grant, MEET THE COMPOSER, and others. Susan Bingham’s works are available through her website, and have been archived at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.